Tougher measures to gauge school progress

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Using unfamiliar measures of school success, No Child Left Behind is upending state and local school accountability programs across the country. This summer’s announcement that 179 Chicago schools landed on the first rung of the federal sanction ladder is just a beginning of the local drama and, likely, the confusion.

The overall goal set by the new law is to have all students proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Schools are expected to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward that goal each year. AYP goals will be set not only for the school as a whole, but also for a number of demographic subgroups that traditionally have not been well served by schools, such as low-income students.

According to estimates by the Illinois State Board of Education, half of all Illinois schools are in danger of failing to meet their AYP goals in the next three years.

Here’s the background, according to city and state school officials:

How Chicago has rated

elementary schools

The test: Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS)

The subject: Reading

The goal: Initially, each school was to have at least 15 percent of its students scoring at or above national norms. Now a score of 20 gets you in trouble.

The measure: Success is determined by the percentage scoring at or above national norms.

Sanctions for failure: Schools are placed on “probation,” which allows for sanctions ranging from replacement of the principal to closing the school.

Under former schools CEO Paul Vallas, the ITBS and its high school counterpart, the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency, became the coin of the realm. For school accountability, only reading scores mattered. In 1996, Vallas placed 109 schools on probation because fewer than 15 percent of their students scored at or above the national average. Today, a score less than 20 percent puts a school on probation; it takes a score of 25 percent to get off. At the end of last school year, 81 elementary and high schools were on probation.

How Illinois rated elementary schools this year under ‘No Child’

The test: Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT)

The subjects: Reading, math and other subjects, as measured by a “composite” score.

The goal: At least 50 percent of students would meet or exceed state-set standards by 2004.

The measure: Adequate yearly progress (AYP) over a five-year period, beginning in 1999. Schools’ AYP goals were based on the distance they had to go to reach 50 percent.

Sanctions for failure: Students were given the option of transferring to a better public school in the same district or another district if that district agreed.

Using 1999 ISATs as a baseline, the Illinois State Board of Education used scores from the last three years (2000, 2001 and 2002) to rate schools. All schools that scored less than 50 percent and failed to meet their AYP goals for at least two consecutive years were required to provide transfer options. Chicago worked out a scaled-back “pilot” choice plan with the federal government. All schools that failed to make their AYP goals for at least three consecutive years were supposed to allow parents to choose an outside tutor, using their share of their schools’ federal funding. As CATALYST goes to press, federal and state officials continue negotiations on this.

How Illinois will rate

elementary schools beginning next year

The test, subjects: Reading and math ISATs

The goal: All students are to meet or exceed state standards by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

The measure: Adequate yearly progress toward that goal for the school as a whole and for each of these subgroups of students: major ethnic groups, low-income students, students with disabilities, students with limited English proficiency and migrant students.

With 2002 test scores as a base line, each school’s progress goals will be based on the distance it has to cover to meet the 2014 goal of 100 percent proficiency. For example, a school where 40 percent of the students met or exceeded state standards in reading and math on the 2002 ISAT has another 60 percent to go. The school-wide annual progress goal for that school would be a twelfth of 60, or 5 percentage points. If, say, only 28 percent of the Hispanic students at that school met or exceeded standards in 2002, the school has 72 percent to go for that group, which would yield a subgroup progress goal of 6 percent. To avoid sanctions, schools must meet annual yearly progress goals for the school as a whole and all designated subgroups.

Sanctions for failure: School choice continues for schools that fail to make progress goals for two consecutive years. Parents of children at schools that fail three years in a row are to get additional tutoring options. The district can make staffing changes at schools that fail four years in a row. Conversion to a charter school or other governance change will become a possibility at schools that fail five years in a row.